Popular Science Monthly/Volume 13/May 1878/Notes


The Department of Agriculture has received from General Charles P. Stone, now in the military service of the Khedive of Egypt, a lot of red-date seed, with which it is designed to make the experiment of growing the date-palm in the United States. General Stone, from what he has seen of the date-producing regions of Northeastern Africa, and from his observations in the Desert of the Colorado, between Carissa Creek and Fort Yuma, is inclined to believe that the greater portion of the latter region can be made productive and very valuable by the culture of this tree. The date-palm, he writes, not only does not require much water, but much water is prejudicial to it, and the climate of the Colorado Desert is strikingly similar to that of some of the best date producing districts of Egypt.

In a tower of the Temple of Ularo, in Kioto, Japan, is suspended the largest bell in the world. The date of its casting is unknown. It measures 24 feet in height and is 16 inches thick at the rim. It is sounded by a suspended lever of wood, used like a battering-ram, striking the bell on the outside. The Bolshoi (Giant) in Moscow, cast in the sixteenth century, and recast in 1654, was 21 feet high and 18 feet in diameter; its weight was estimated at 288,000 pounds. The metal of this bell was used in casting the present "great bell of Moscow," the Tsar Kolokol, 19 feet 3 inches high, and about 19 feet in diameter; estimated weight, 443,772 pounds.

The Central Railroad of New Jersey have, at their Communipaw shops, a small gas-works for converting into illuminating gas, oil-waste and other combustible material collected along the line of road. The fuel used in the gas-furnace is the screenings from the locomotives—a material previously used only for road-ballast. The gas costs the company only 35 cents per thousand feet, and enough is produced to supply 225 burners. Its illuminating power is said to be very high.

In the opinion of the Lancet, California will, before long, be supplying Europe with wines that will bear comparison with the finest vintages of the Rhine and the Moselle. A few years ago there was an exhibition at Kensington, of the wines of many countries, at which the wines from California took a very high rank. An analysis of these wines, recently published in the Pharmaceutical Journal, makes a very favorable exhibit for our Pacific slope vintages.

The fourth annual report of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences gives evidence of a highly-creditable degree of scientific activity on the part of the members of the society; but we regret to notice that the publication of the Bulletin has been for the present suspended, from the want of funds to continue it. During the year 1877 the society's collections were used by the scholars of the public schools of Buffalo as a means of instruction in natural history. The number of books in the library has been considerably increased. The zoölogical specimens added to the collections during the year were numerous. The original scientific work of members of the society has afforded material for 33 memoirs, published by the Department of the Interior, and in various scientific journals. To the society is due the credit of having inaugurated a course of cheap winter evening lectures, at an admission-fee of ten cents.

The use of "toughened" glass is not without its dangers, as we learn from the experience of a certain Prof. Ricard. He bought a child's cup of toughened glass, which was exposed to hard usage for some months, without suffering from the rough treatment. But one evening it was left, with a spoon in it, on a table, and the room was shut. Shortly afterward a noise as of a pistol-shot alarmed the whole household. On entering the room, fragments of glass were found scattered all around—the cup had exploded after the manner of a Prince Rupert drop.

A process of engraving on glass and crystal by means of electricity has been discovered by M. Gaston Planté. The process consists in covering the plate to be engraved with a concentrated solution of nitrate of potash, put in connection with one of the poles of a battery, and in tracing the design with a fine platinum point connected with the other pole. M. Planté employs a battery composed of 50 or 60 secondary elements.

In an establishment at Oakland, California, the entrails of sheep are used for making very serviceable belting for machinery. First the entrails are cleaned and soaked for a few days in brine. The prepared material is then wound on bobbins, when it is ready for working up either into ropes or flat belts. A three-quarters-inch rope of this material is capable of bearing a strain of seven tons. The material, furthermore, is very durable—more than twice as durable as hemp.

The directors of the Paris Exposition of 1878 intend to repeat, on a large scale, Foucault's famous pendulum-experiment, showing the rotation of the earth. The pendulum to be suspended in the Champ de Mars will be about 660 pounds in weight and 220 feet long, and will be so hung that the points of suspension can freely move, thus permitting the pendulum to swing in one plane or nearly so. The spectator will notice that the pendulum changes its line of oscillation as regards the floor beneath, but if he understands the questions to be answered, he will know that it is the floor, and himself with it, that is carried round, while the pendulum continues to oscillate in one plane, or nearly so.

It has been observed by a French physician, De Renzi, that the paroxysms of those suffering from lockjaw are always more frequent and more violent by day than by night, and he has noticed the same fact in frogs poisoned with strychnine. He has further observed that the paroxysms are more intense when the animals are freely exposed to light than when they are kept in darkness, and that frogs poisoned by weak doses of strychnine die on being roughly shaken, but live when left in a state of complete repose. On these results M. de Renzi bases a new system of treatment for cases of lockjaw; it is as follows: The patient is shut in a perfectly dark room, and the door is opened very gently every four hours to give food and drink. The external auditory meatus are sealed with wax. Every hour (?) soup or an egg, with two spoonfuls of sherry, is given from a cup with a spout to it. A little powder of belladonna and ergot is given to appease the paroxysm. The floor should be covered with a carpet.

Books taken from circulating libraries for the use of convalescents may easily become the vehicles of contagious diseases, and it is much to be desired that some effectual method could be devised of disinfecting volumes which have been so used. Until this is done, circulating libraries would do well to caution their patrons against the danger, and to request that the books be not used where such diseases exist. In these days of cheap publications it is easy to obviate this peril by procuring for the use of the sick low-priced volumes, to be destroyed after they have been perused.

M. Schiaparelli, during the last opposition of Mars, made observations of the position of the south-polar spot, as was also done by Prof. Hall. The method adopted by the latter was to measure the angle of position of the spot from the centre of the disk. M. Schiaparelli made his measures by placing the wire of his micrometer tangent to the limb of the planet at the middle of the spot. The latitude and longitude (areographic) of the spot are:

θ 29.47° (S.) θ 20.66° (E.)
λ 6.15° λ 5.18°

For 1877, Sep. 27.0 G. M. T.

The planting of trees in the streets of towns is condemned as unsanitary by a writer in the Lancet, on the ground that fresh air, Nature's great deodorizer, is checked in its movements by the foliage. In the narrow, tortuous lanes and pent-up courts, where the poorer part of the population live, anything that interferes with the freest possible circulation of the air must be injurious to health.

Dr. J. A. Campbell, writing in the British Medical Journal, favors recourse to summary proceedings in the treatment of "fasting girls," i. e., young females who, under the influence of hysteria, believe themselves to possess the miraculous power of living without food or drink. The hysterical manifestations, he says, can be overcome by the stomach-pump, and with our present knowledge no more fasting girls should be permitted to occur.

In Texas camels are raised as easily as horses and cattle. The colts of the first three or four days are rather tender, and require close attention, but afterward they are hardy enough. They feed on cactus and brush, refusing all grasses. The females, with proper care, give a colt every year.

It is commonly supposed that the softer a bar of steel is, the better is it able to endure strains and shocks causing vibration. But experiments made by Mr. W. Metcalf, of Pittsburg, show in fact that hard steel suffers less from vibration than soft. Mr. Metcalf's attention was first drawn to this subject by the constant breaking of steam hammer piston-rods. Those made of ordinary steel lasted only six months. Then lower and lower steels were tried, and broke in about five months. Once it happened that a rod of comparatively high steel was employed, which held out for over two years. This totally unexpected result led to systematic experiment which confirmed the conclusion stated above.

Of "trials of endurance" now so much in vogue, the latest is that undertaken by a Mr. Murphy, of Kern, California, who talked incessantly for twenty-four hours, with a rest of five seconds in each hour for the purpose of taking a drink of whiskey. At the conclusion of his task, Murphy fell from his chair, but whether this was the result of exhaustion or of intoxication could not be determined.

Experiments have lately been made in Germany to determine the value of the common nettle as a textile fibre. The weed having been treated in the same way as hemp, yielded a fibre as fine as silk and as strong as hemp-fibre. A considerable area of ground is now planted with the nettle in the Prussian province of Nassau.